Assignment in Eternity
By Robert A. Heinlein
Read by Bronson Pinchot
Published by Blackstone Audio
This is actually a collection of stories and I am not generally a fan of such collections. I really do prefer novels as it gives me the time to really get into the story. Shorter works are kind of like looking at photographic stills of a movie, rather than the whole film itself. When writing, I prefer to write novels too and while I have written some shorter pieces, I really prefer the longer stories.
That said, I think I can be fair to this collection of some of Heinlein’s lesser known stories. The first, “Gulf,” is very typical of Heinlein’s writing in the 1940’s. Lots of espionage and other secret agent action similar to The Puppet Masters and Friday. Actually I liked the story for the most part except for the ending. It literally moved along at marvelously fast pace, but then suddenly hit a stone wall and stopped. I felt the finish was too sudden. It was also somewhat predictable, but that did not bother me as, until the end itself, I was enjoying the ride.
I got somewhat confused at the start of the second story, “Elsewhen.” My fault, really. I did not realize this book was not a novel, having not read it previously, so when Mister Pinchot said, “Elsewhen,” directly after the abrupt end of “Gulf,” I thought the scene had suddenly shifted and kept waiting for the cast of the first story to reappear on a parallel time line or something. Had I been reading, I doubt I would have experienced that confusion. Having figured that out, however I did not have a similar problem with the final two stories, “Lost Legacy” and “Jerry was a Man.”
The stories are culturally dated by the attitudes of their characters. Keep in mind they were written between 1941 and 1949. Calling women “Girls” was not considered sexist or demeaning, for example, even if it did rub me the wrong way more than once – actually I kept expecting an otherwise strong female character to deck the guy who called her a girl (not something that would happen in a Heinlein story in which a woman always behaves as though her man is in charge, even when they then go ahead and do whatever they please at the earliest opportunity).
All four stories also share a common theme in that they involve enhanced or evolved people and/or animals and their abilities. This is a classic science fiction theme and especially typical of the genre in the 1940’s. It is also typical of Heinlein’s writing especially in his early period and in each story he explores a different aspect of the possibility. Because they were written in the 40’s, there is no question that all such “improvements” are good. Questioning whether we should play with genetics or evolve naturally came a little later. If the science he uses seems flawed to a modern reader, it is important to realize that 60-70 something years has been a very long time for our sociologists and anthropologists. We’ve learned a lot since Heinlein wrote these stories that disproves so many of his assertions, but taken at face value, they are still entertaining.
So much can go wrong with the reading of an audiobook, but Bronson Pinchot manages to avoid most of those pitfalls. His readings of the stories may not be the most inspired either, but his voices match the characters fairly well and I had no complaints with his reading style. In fact he managed to catch and hold my interest despite the fact he was reading short stories and a novella, and given my preferences, that truly is saying something.
The stories are not Heinlein’s best, but they are good examples of classic SF of the 1940’s and Mister Pinchot’s readings of them are quite entertaining.